Trolling for Jocassee’s winter trout

Gregg Thompson caught this 5-pound brown trout during a winter trip with Sam Jones of Jocassee Charters. (Photo by Sam Jones)

River channels are ripe for brown trout, rainbows

Lake Jocassee’s trout spread out during February, chasing their preferred baitfish. This can make them tough to catch, but Sam Jones of Jocassee Charters has developed a good plan for catching the lake’s brown trout and rainbow trout during winter.

“They spread out this time of year because the blueback herring and threadfin shad are moving up the rivers to spawn,” said Jones. “The best way to catch them is trolling with downriggers.”

Jones knows the best speed to troll – 1.2 to 2.2 miles per hour. But he said the best depth is always a mystery.

“We’ll catch them anywhere from 60 feet deep to almost at the surface. It’s best to troll a handful of different lures at different depths at the same time. On some days, they’ll hit at only one or two depths. Other days, they’ll hit at every depth you’ve got a lure,” he said.

Jones said many anglers troll in a straight line all the time. He’s not a fan of that approach.

“I don’t like trolling in a straight line all the time. I like to mix it up with sharp turns and zig-zags,” he said.

When it comes to the best bait, Jones (864-280-9056) said nothing beats the baitfish that the trout are keying in on right now.

“They’re chasing blueback herring and threadfin shad. So using large shiners or herring is your best choice,” he said.

Deep isn’t the only way at Jocassee

Cast nets are not allowed on Jocassee, so anglers must either bring those baitfish with them, or catch them with Sabiki rigs.

Another option that Jones relies on a lot this month is artificial spoons. He’s especially a big fan of Sutton Spoons, which he credits with him catching a 5-pound and a 7-pound brown trout one day several years ago.

“The Sutton Spoons are the best. They’re sometimes difficult to find. I like using ones anywhere from 1 1/2 inches long to 4 inches long. Just matching the hatch, basically,” he said.

His favorite colors are silver, copper, and any natural colors.

“You want to find suspended schools of baitfish on your depth finder. If you can see trout too, all the better,” he said. “You really want to concentrate on those main river channels, especially those of the Toxaway and Whitewater rivers,” he said.

Aside from Sutton Spoons, Jones said various minnow-imitating lures will also work. He suggests trying Yo-Zuri and Rapala stickbaits in minnow and trout patterns. The best sizes, he said, are 2 to 4 inches long.

While the majority of his fish will come off downriggers in deeper water, Jones said another effective tactic is to troll a shallow-diving minnow lure about 100 feet behind the boat.

Book your trip with Jones at

About Brian Cope 2605 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at

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